Passion, mentorship, and research excellence

This article appeared in its original form on the Queen’s Faculty of Arts and Science Webpage. 

The United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science recognizes the significant gender gap that has persisted throughout the years at all levels of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines all over the world. Three Faculty of Arts and Science researchers are working to ensure women are not excluded from the STEM disciplines.

Masters student Zoe Lord (Chemistry) is currently researching how students learn chemistry in virtual reality (VR) environments. She is particularly interested in cognitive load, which is the amount of working memory a person uses while performing a task.

 “My goal is to use machine learning algorithms to predict cognitive load by using Functional Near-infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) wearables to determine one’s oxygen levels in the brain as well as eye-tracking technologies (fNIRS is a portable, non-invasive, brain imaging technology),” Lord says. “From there, I aspire to propose guidelines to further prevent cognitive overload (i.e., being overwhelmed) as students use VR devices to learn difficult chemistry concepts.”


She says being able to understand how students learn in chemistry is an inspiring venture to pursue. She also has the pleasure of developing new skills throughout the process, where achieving this research study requires coding and video game development. As a unique chemistry graduate student using computer science practices in daily tasks, she was excited in taking the initiative to self-learn coding for VR environments.

Outside of school, Lord is a Scientist-Astronaut candidate for the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), where she is concurrently studying Bioastronautics with a concentration in EVA Suit Evaluation.

“Throughout my academic career, many friends and family questioned my choices for studying various STEM fields. Having an interdisciplinary background was not encouraged as it portrayed indecisiveness,” Lord says. “Thankfully, my parents were incredibly supportive of my academic pursuits and strongly encouraged me to continue achieving my goals. I’m extremely grateful for my parents being there for me through the ups and downs of my career. Without them, I wouldn’t be the same woman I am today or possess the strength to accomplish all the things I dared to dream.”